Human Origins Leiden

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Human Origins Leiden

Archaeology: Art on the move

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Author: Wil Roebroeks

Journal: Nature

Abstract: Studies of stencils and paintings from prehistoric caves in Indonesia date the art to at least 39,900 years ago — around the same age as the earliest cave art previously known, 13,000 kilometres away in western Europe.

News & Views to Aubert, M., et al. (2014). Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nature 514(7521): 223-227 (

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Citation: Roebroeks, W. (2014). Archaeology: Art on the move. Nature 514(7521): 170-171.


A fish is not a fish

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Author: Josephine C.A. Joordens, Remko S. Kuipers, Jan H. Wanink and Frits A.J. Muskiet

Journal: Journal of Human Evolution

Abstract: From c. 2 Ma (millions of years ago) onwards, hominin brain size and cognition increased in an unprecedented fashion. The exploitation of high-quality food resources, notably from aquatic ecosystems, may have been a facilitator or driver of this phenomenon. The aim of this study is to contribute to the ongoing debate on the possible role of aquatic resources in hominin evolution by providing a more detailed nutritional context. So far, the debate has focused on the relative importance of terrestrial versus aquatic resources while no distinction has been made between different types of aquatic resources. Here we show that Indian Ocean reef fish and eastern African lake fish yield on average similarly high amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and arachidonic acid (AA). Hence a shift from exploiting tropical marine to freshwater ecosystems (or vice versa) would entail no material difference in dietary long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LC-PUFA) availability. However, a shift to marine ecosystems would likely mean a major increase in access to brain-selective micronutrients such as iodine. Fatty fish from marine temperate/cold waters yield twice as much DHA and four times as much EPA as tropical fish, demonstrating that a latitudinal shift in exploitation of African coastal ecosystems could constitute a significant difference in LC-PUFA availability with possible implications for brain development and functioning. We conclude that exploitation of aquatic food resources could have facilitated the initial moderate hominin brain increase as observed in fossils dated to c. 2 Ma, but not the exceptional brain increase in later stages of hominin evolution. We propose that the significant expansion in hominin brain size and cognition later on may have been aided by strong directional selecting forces such as runaway sexual selection of intelligence, and nutritionally supported by exploitation of high-quality food resources in stable and productive aquatic ecosystems.

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Citation: Josephine C.A. Joordens, Remko S. Kuipers, Jan H. Wanink, Frits A.J. Muskiet, A fish is not a fish: Patterns in fatty acid composition of aquatic food may have had implications for hominin evolution, Journal of Human Evolution, Available online 26 July 2014, ISSN 0047-2484,




Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex

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Authors: Paola Villa and Wil Roebroeks

Journal: PLOS ONE


Abstract: Neandertals are the best-studied of all extinct hominins, with a rich fossil record sampling hundreds of individuals, roughly dating from between 350,000 and 40,000 years ago. Their distinct fossil remains have been retrieved from Portugal in the west to the Altai area in central Asia in the east and from below the waters of the North Sea in the north to a series of caves in Israel in the south. Having thrived in Eurasia for more than 300,000 years, Neandertals vanished from the record around 40,000 years ago, when modern humans entered Europe. Modern humans are usually seen as superior in a wide range of domains, including weaponry and subsistence strategies, which would have led to the demise of Neandertals. This systematic review of the archaeological records of Neandertals and their modern human contemporaries finds no support for such interpretations, as the Neandertal archaeological record is not different enough to explain the demise in terms of inferiority in archaeologically visible domains. Instead, current genetic data suggest that complex processes of interbreeding and assimilation may have been responsible for the disappearance of the specific Neandertal morphology from the fossil record.

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Citation: Villa P, Roebroeks W (2014) Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex. PLoS ONE 9(4): e96424. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096424


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